Microclimate feedbacks sustain power law clustering of encroaching coastal woody vegetation

Heng Huang, Philip A. Tuley, Chengyi Tu, Julie C. Zinnert, Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, Paolo D'Odorico
2021 Communications Biology  
AbstractThe spatial pattern of vegetation patchiness may follow universal characteristic rules when the system is close to critical transitions between alternative states, which improves the anticipation of ecosystem-level state changes which are currently difficult to detect in real systems. However, the spatial patterning of vegetation patches in temperature-driven ecosystems have not been investigated yet. Here, using high-resolution imagery from 1972 to 2013 and a stochastic cellular
more » ... a model, we show that in a North American coastal ecosystem where woody plant encroachment has been happening, the size distribution of woody patches follows a power law when the system approaches a critical transition, which is sustained by the local positive feedbacks between vegetation and the surrounding microclimate. Therefore, the observed power law distribution of woody vegetation patchiness may be suggestive of critical transitions associated with temperature-driven woody plant encroachment in coastal and potentially other ecosystems.
doi:10.1038/s42003-021-02274-z pmid:34135454 fatcat:x7way3v7k5h2vd7uy3346wz3ry